Lend me your ears: Jaguar’s first EV did not come to bury Tesla, but to praise it.

The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace is the first long-range, luxury electric car that might rightfully be compared to a Tesla. And yet, it doesn’t make sense for anybody to refer to it a “Tesla Killer.” The first reason to avoid applying the overused term to the I-Pace is that Jaguar doesn’t see it that way.

“Tesla killer? That’s not our mindset,” said Stuart Schorr, vice-president of communications for Jaguar Land Rover, when we talked during the media drive of the I-Pace in Portugal in June. Schorr said that he’s been in a thousand Jaguar communication meetings about the I-Pace and hasn’t heard the term once. “We never talked about being Tesla Killers. Our assumption is that day by day a few more luxury shoppers will be interested in having an EV in their garage.”

Schorr acknowledged that some customers who buy an electric vehicle will only want a Tesla.  But he said that others—even some of the first early EV adopters—might want to try something different and could see an attractive alternative in Jaguar’s design and reputation. “That works. We’ll engage them,” he said. The point is not to kill anything but to contribute to the electric car movement. And Jaguar is on board.

Schorr’s words echoed the praise bestowed upon Tesla by Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, Jaguar’s technical design director. “Tesla can claim a lot of credit for showing the industry that penetration of electric cars is much faster and higher at the upper end of the car market,” said Dr. Ziebart, when we spoke last week in Redwood City, Calif. (Also see why he believes that EV batteries will get smaller over time.)

Dr. Ziebart suggested that vehicles like the Tesla Model S, and the emerging luxury EVs from German automakers, have an appeal that goes beyond zero emissions and sustainability. “It’s about sheer fun, as well as benefits like long service intervals and not having to go to the gas station,” he said.

Dr. Z could not contain his enthusiasm for EVs. “When you drive an electric car, you get addicted to it. It's so much smoother and more comfortable. You have endless power. It is just more fun.” He said that he finds it difficult these days to go back to driving an internal combustion vehicle, which he considers “a step backward.”

Before joining Jaguar Land Rover, Dr. Ziebart served as chief executive officer at Infineon, which supplies chips to control batteries in the Tesla Model 3. He was also at BMW when it developed the small E1 electric concept car that offered 124 miles of range all the way back in 1991. The BMW E1 was a city runabout that struggled to reach 75 miles per hour.

BMW E1

BMW E1

“EVs were once seen mostly as city cars, with low performance mainly for stop-and-go driving,” said Dr. Ziebart. Innovation from Tesla and others made it clear that EVs are not just eco-friendly city cars, but kick-ass, high-performance luxury automobiles. “It's much easier to control the torque of an electric motor than the torque of a combustion engine,” said Dr. Z. “It takes something like 50 milliseconds from the time the accelerator moves to when the torque is applied,” he said.

In another sign that Jaguar was not trying to take on Tesla, Dr. Ziebart and his colleagues tuned the I-Pace for smoothness rather than ludicrous levels of acceleration. “We started with a certain fixed curve of accelerator-pedal actuation versus torque,” he said. “With the I-Pace, we softened the accelerator action a little bit. We could have made the acceleration even sharper, but we realized that it was too unusual for most drivers.” Even in its current gentler form, the 400-horsepower I-Pace zips from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. Dr. Ziebart said that Jaguar might speed up the accelerator response in the future when its customers get more used to electric cars.

Regardless, the introduction of each new, high-end EV is not about competing against Tesla as much as it’s about adding to the overall movement toward electrification. Dr. Z said, “The transition to EVs will happen faster than we thought.”